How my favorite Napier icon proves the Moon landings really happened

I spotted a thread the other day on Facebook in which someone was screaming about the Moon landings being faked. ‘Wake up!’ this person insisted. ‘The Moon landings were faked.’ Why? Apparently we haven’t been back since 1972 and, according to this person, lack the technology to do so.

Well, quite. It was one of the sillier landing-denial efforts. The usual method is to imagine that NASA faked it all in a studio, were too stupid to get it right despite employing 400,000 of the smartest people in the United States – but luckily the smart moon-hoax detectives are on the job and can spot the errors! My favourite is the ‘two light source’ claim. If you look at just about any of the pictures from the lunar surface, you’ll see that the shadow side of the subjects is always fairly well lit. But in vacuum, there’s nothing to scatter the light around – the shadow should be pitch black. According to the conspiracists, it’s because NASA stupidly used in-fill floods, a second light-source, to make it all look good for the camera. How dumb of them.

Buzz Aldrin descends to the lunar surface, 20 July 1969. NASA, 20 July 1969.

Needless to say I have a few problems with this claim. One of them is why, if NASA were trying to fake single-direction illumination, they didn’t simply use a spotlight and shoot from the illuminated side? To add extra floods and shoot from the other side seems a bit over-complex. Of course, what’s really happening here is that it’s the moon hoax conspiracists who’re wrong, and it’s trivial to show why. I can do it with this – a photo I took of my favourite Napier icon, the Tom Parker Fountain of 1936. The thing is, it’s set in a wide and shallow pool – which reflects the Sun’s light straight back into the shadow side of the fountain. Like this:

The way is works is clear from this close-up:

I made this myself…

What’s happening is that the specular reflection of the sunlight from the water is filling in the shadow side of the fountain. To compare with the amount of in-fill you get from atmospheric scatter alone, check the density of the shadow under the topiary on the bottom right corner of the picture. See what I mean?

Now, the same principle is at work in the Apollo lunar surface photos. The Moon’s surface is fairly dark – it has an albedo (reflectivity) of about two percent. But that’s enough to do the trick, particularly given the intensity of the sunlight and the low sun angles involved. If you look at the NASA photos, you’ll see the shadow side isn’t all that well lit, but the camera has been exposed on those shadows – the areas under direct illumination are actually over-exposed. What’s more, the picture of Aldrin above clearly shows pitch-black shadows at ground level, as you’d expect in circumstance where reflected light couldn’t reach. Whereas Aldrin, some distance above the regolith on the ladder, is catching the reflections very well. You can see the same thing in this photo of Aldrin setting up the Solar Wind experiment.

Buzz Aldrin on the Moon in July 1969 with the Solar Wind Experiment – a device to measure the wind from the sun. Public domain, NASA.

Actually, there shouldn’t be any need to dispute the alleged fakery down to this level – all it does it play into the hands of those alleging the whole thing was faked. In reality, the Apollo Program drew in something like 400,000 Americans across a wide swathe of industry, from sports-bra makers (who made the space-suits) to computer-manufacturers and virtually the whole aviation industry. Not one of those involved have, it seems, squealed since about fakery. Not one. Besides which, if the Americans had ‘faked’ it, the Soviets would have blown the whistle at the time, given the billions of roubles they had poured into their own effort. And that’s without considering the extent to which the post-Apollo tech spinoffs shaped the modern world – everything from memory-foam mattresses to fly-by-wire and, of course, the whole of modern computing. Yah. That.

In reality, of course, the moon landings did happen, and we don’t have to look far to run into the point directly. As just one example, there’s someone I know, via blogging, in the US whose Dad was the pad safety official for Apollo 11. (How cool is that?) The reason nobody went back was that it was a hideously expensive effort, driven almost entirely by the political imperatives of the Cold War. Political support was evaporating even before the project was over. NASA’s ambitious plans to extend Apollo-era systems into space-stations, semi-permanent lunar bases and even a 1974 manned Venus fly-by were being scaled back by 1967, even before Neil Armstrong set foot on the Sea of Tranquility. Damn.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2019

5 thoughts on “How my favorite Napier icon proves the Moon landings really happened

  1. I’m a big one for questioning beliefs, but this strange desire to rewrite facts is something else again. It’s almost always championed by people who believe the experts are wrong because they’re covering up a con of some sort. As such, non-experts [such as themselves] are entitled to expose the con because they’re…pure of heart?
    I suspect this is a modern day version of wanting to be superman. Or Erin Brockovich. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think it’s necessary for humans to question – even to be cynical – about what is presented. And the notion of ‘what is reality’ has certainly exercised philosophers. But it seems to me that to portray the whole of reality as an intentional lie perpetrated by those ‘in charge’ – which the moon hoax and various other similar-scale conspiracy theories basically do – where the ‘truth’ is some idea that the ‘alternative thinker’ believes to be real – tells us more about such thinkers, than it does about any abstract reality.


  2. Never did get the whole “moon landings a hoax” thing. I think it comes under the category of “determined not to believe something” but for the life of me I can’t figure out, why? Maybe because some people simply can’t admit how totally fabulous humans are when they want to be? Or how adventurous? Or how smart? Or…?

    Nope. I just don’t get it. Of course, I’m with the late, great Scott Crossfield, who was wont to ask, Why aren’t we on Mars by now?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I never got the ‘hoax’ idea either. Falls into the same category as ‘ancient aliens built the pyramids’ – I sometimes wonder if the logic is ‘I don’t know how they did this… therefore nobody can know’, on the part of people who, alas, unwittingly also provide Messrs Dunning and Kruger with their raw evidence. (Cynically, ‘I’m stupid, therefore all humanity is stupid, so how did they do all this stuff?’) I remember the whole space race happening at the time (as I’m sure do you) and it really was very wide-reaching. There was a real social engagement at every level across the globe which seems to have been forgotten today – something that could not have been engineered by fakers. The whole space effort of the 1960s was a truly great human endeavour on so many levels, with so much potential as the foundation for something even greater. But nooooo…

      There is, I think, only one plus side to the reduction of the Apollo Applications Programme (16 August 1968 – budget slashed from $488 to $122 million). As I understand it, the 1967 timetable for the Venus flyby would have resulted in the astronauts being still in deep space during the solar flare and major coronal mass ejection of 5-6 July 1974, with every chance of their being caught by the CME and its high-energy protons. I gather CME’s were only discovered in 1971, and the Venus flyby system didn’t really have weight allocation for a radiation shelter against such an event. Speculating into the counter-factuals, I guess the resulting tragedy would likely have damaged any political backing the programme retained. On the other hand, we must still lament the lost opportunities.


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